China may or may not have surpassed the United States in the number of citizens online this year. It all depends, of course, as The Wall Street Journal's Carl Bialik explains, on how you count them, and how you counted them last year. Or whether the U.S. government has bothered to make any kind of count in the last five years (it hasn't).
In the end, it matters little. Either it has taken first place, or it will, and it'll say it has either way.
In the short term, however, the user numbers that governmental agencies choose to accept could play a large part in the ongoing drama of Microsoft's attempt to take over Yahoo.
Because of Yahoo's 40 percent stake in Chinese e-commerce and search site Alibaba.com, reports The New York Times, a Chinese law that will go into effect on August 1, 2008, could bring as much scrutiny to the proposed deal from that country as from regulatory bodies in the U.S. and Europe. The Times adds that the regulatory body could also investigate national security issues, a facet that might be even more likely after Chinese Huawei Technologies was prevented by the U.S. Committee on Foreign Investment from investing in 3Com on national security grounds.
At the same time, Alibaba executives are investigating the possibility of buying back Yahoo's stake in the company, which is allowed in the deal, using investments from a number of sources, many of them Chinese. And Yahoo CEO Jerry Yang, of course, last week emphasized the underestimated and unknown value and potential in the Alibaba holding in the investor presentation that's been making the rounds ahead of first-quarter reporting.
In light of both of these issues, ZDNet's Larry Dignan asks what Yahoo is worth to Microsoft without Alibaba. His answer: Well, we still don't know, but Microsoft sure as heck isn't going to up its bid from the $31 per share offered.